I always used to explore on Saturday mornings, driving around Seattle to find some new magical diner to eat that would cause my writing output to double or make me run into the perfect woman, except I’d always end up at Denny’s or at the movie theater at Mountlake Terrace, because I didn’t own a TV and would just go there and watch three movies back-to-back. But I was somewhere in the middle of the peninsula, not sure where, and I went to this weird little used bookstore/antique shop/cafe, in this creaky white victorian house. There are essentially three kinds of antique stores: one is where the owner is a hoarder, with fifty years of inventory and has totally maximized their space so there’s junk on top of junk on top of junk. The newest thing in the store is older than you, and it might be interesting to look in there, if the dust mite infestation wouldn’t kill you. Then there’s the Pawn Star type of places, where they know the value of everything and only have the most profit-margin-friendly stuff out there. They know exactly how much everything costs, so there’s never a surprise and almost never a bargain. And then there’s these ones by sort of far-left revisionists, the etsy arts and craft sorts, who label everything in that weird sorority font and it’s all fun and neato. And this place was definitely in the latter category.
The place smelled like my grandmother’s place, sort of equal parts of flea market, rosewater, and old people farts. I was starving, probably from driving for hours trying to make up my mind, and I ordered the only real thing on the menu, a panini sandwich. The only cooking apparatus in the place, other than a coffee machine, was the panini iron, a glorified Foreman grill. The thing I remember most is that the girl working was an absolutely beautiful redhead, pale skin, wearing a tight but proper dress. I couldn’t tell if she was a teenager or not, if she was a freshman in college or a junior in high school. This was about the time in my life when I could no longer tell the difference. Now, it’s completely splayed, and I can’t tell if someone is in college or 30 of 15. Last night at the movies, I saw a girl and could not tell if she was 22 or 15. She was with a friend who looked 15, but I just couldn’t tell.
I was so desperate at the time, the thought of dating a teenager wasn’t far-fetched. I had a hard line at 18 of course, but I was 25 and going on three years of absolute celibacy, nothing past a failed first date, and every woman I met was in her thirties with chronic complications and high expectations. The idea of finding some girl who was 18 and would be impressed with a college degree and my own place and a new car had some merit. But it made me think of when I knew girls in high school that dated “older guys.” I did not get that at the time, because I could see the upside to the girl, in a Fast Times sort of way, but I didn’t know why the guy would date a 14-year-old. And then later, I realized it was a combination of statuatory rape and the pure townieism of Indiana. And none of this mattered, because I’m sure that I was giving off the serial killer vibe and she probably dialed 91 and was waiting to dial 1 while she nervously made my shitty panini sandwich and I looked at all of the garage sale pieces of junk on shelves.
But I remember that book store, because it was the type of “book store with no books.” Like the used books were just the dregs of what wouldn’t be bought at any other store. There were some good used book stores — some great ones in the U district — but this place either had an owner out of touch with reality, or didn’t get in the good stuff, or couldn’t afford it. And I think maybe it was the former, like a person who only stocked poetry books by DH Lawrence rip-offs, and dust mite-infested penguin classics that were probably bought at estate sales by the pound.
I can’t remember the neighborhood, which bugs me. I know if I visited Seattle again, I’d start driving instinctively, and go from my old apartment to some random Vietnamese restaurant without thinking. But where was that book store? What happened to it? Is the redheaded teenager-or-not still in Seattle, or did she have ten kids and move to Kelso and become a professional hoarder? Is the old victorian house now a Jimmy John’s sandwich shop, or the parking lot for a Qdoba? I can drive myself crazy thinking about stuff like this.